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Warner Bros.: Holy marketing
challenge, Batman

Originally published in Marketing News

The Dark Knight

December 5, 2008

Marketing for this year’s mega-hit movie The Dark Knight, the latest in the Batman series, began with a viral campaign 15 months before the film’s July opening. Theater trailers began popping up in December 2007, eight months early, also part of the long-term marketing effort.

When Heath Ledger, who starred as the villainous Joker, died in late January,
Warner Bros. and its marketing team were confronted with how to continue marketing efforts in a manner that didn’t upset Ledger fans by making it appear the studio was trying to cash in on his untimely death.

Entertainment marketing experts say Warner succeeded in those efforts, and
moviegoers apparently agreed, making The Dark Knight the second-highest grossing film in U.S. movie history.

Perhaps the smartest marketing move was to continue the planned viral campaign and other efforts after Ledger’s death, notes Farrah Louviere, director of film for Davie Brown Entertainment in Los Angeles. “It wasn’t like the studio made a left turn or a right turn because of the unfortunate nature and time of his death,” Louviere says. The viral campaign, put together by Pasadena, Calif.-based 42 Entertainment, included a Web site with a variety of interactive activities designed to excite hard-core Batman fans and turn them into word-of-mouth ambassadors for the film. The studio also paid tribute to Ledger at the end of the film and held its opening in his native Australia, touches that showed sensitivity about his loss.

Lesson: “If a studio finds itself in a similar situation and stays honest to the performer’s contribution in the film and respects the actor’s family, there should
be little to worry about,” says Martin Cribbs, director of representation at
GreenLight, a Los Angeles licensing and property rights company.

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Copyright © 2009 Davie Brown Entertainment

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